The sports world cleared a major social hurdle on Monday when NBA center Jason Collins became the first player in major American sports to reveal he was gay, while still in the league. Collins' revelation is expected to encourage other athletes to come out.
That got the E-Ring to thinking: Where are all the gay military officers?
"There is no equivalent. There's no Jackie Robinson," for gays in military, said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a California-based research institute and key figure behind the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 2011.
So why not?
"There are a lot of people out there, and a lot of those people have come out. But the thing is that because they are military officers and not NBA stars, they came out quietly," he said, "and very often they don't even come out to all members of their units.
"We weren't expecting heroes to step out and become famous. We were expecting business as usual."
Before the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," a 2010 UCLA study estimated that 2 percent of troops in the U.S. military likely were gay. That meant at the time that 66,000 people in the military could be gay: 13,000 in the active duty force and 53,000 in the National Guard and reserves. Other estimates emerged, but that was a common ballpark reference.
The E-Ring did some math.
There are about 236,000 officers in the military currently. So, based on the 2 percent rate there should be about 4,720 gay officers -- more than enough to field a brigade.
By the same math, 1,138,000 enlisted men and women equals about 22,700 gays and lesbians in those ranks.
After keeping close tabs on its openly gay troops for so long under DADT, the Pentagon today doesn't care much anymore.
"We don't ask or track the sexual orientation of our service members," a Pentagon spokesman said on Monday.
It will require additional independent surveying to determine how many more troops have come out since the repeal. A 2011 survey by OutServe, a leading advocacy group behind the repeal, found that roughly half of self-identifying gay troops said that they had come out to members of their unit after the repeal. Only a third had come out to everyone in their unit.
After about 100 troops came out on the day of the repeal, only Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, a one-star, did so with public fanfare, as deputy chief of the Army Reserve.
"I think it's an imperfect metaphor. In sports, you have very few people, and they're all in the public spotlight," Belkin said, whereas the opposite is true for the military.
More likely, he argued, Collins' revelation could mean more to changing attitudes in the wider African-American community than in professional sports, now that blacks have a new gay public role model.
More than 14,000 troops were booted from the service due to "don't ask, don't tell" from 1993 to 2001, according to DOD.
Photo by Kwaku Alston /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. predicted on Sunday that a U.S. war with Iran would occur if President Obama does not act on Syria, now that is believed Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.
Graham's assertion was one of the boldest among several top lawmakers on defense and intelligence committees who presented widely varying views on Sunday talk shows of what President Obama should do in Syria.
Graham, one of the most outspoken advocates for military intervention in Syria, made the prediction on CBS's "Face the Nation." Besides war, Graham said that without outside help for Syria's rebels, the result will be a failed state that is safe haven for al Qaida, loose chemical weapons, and a post-conflict flood of millions of refugees into neighboring Jordan.
"The longer this goes, the more likely you have a failed state and all hell's going to break loose in the region," Graham said. "It's a disaster for the region. It's going to be a disaster for the world."
The Obama administration has reacted cautiously to its own intelligence assessments that Assad may have twice deployed sarin gas, a move that President Obama said would cross a "red line."
With U.S. allies publicly claiming they believe the gas was used, and senators demanding a yes or no answer, the White House revealed the U.S. intelligence community's suspicions last week, but said it would draw its own conclusions about the evidence and talk with the international community before taking any action.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., all pressured the White House to reveal whether it believed Assad already had used chemical weapons.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. said, "Some action needs to be taken." Rogers said on ABC's "This Week" that classified information "strengthens the case" that Syrian did use chemical weapons.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., however, argued that President Obama should be given leeway so that the United States can finish its own assessment before responding. "I appreciate his deliberative approach."
Graham, who has called for military intervention for months, advocated arming "the right" rebels and striking the Syrian air force with cruise missiles from afar.
"If you could neutralize the air advantage the Syrian government has over the rebels, I think you could turn the tide of battle pretty quickly," he said.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, argued the administration was busy consulting with Russia and other countries about Syria. "The president met with the king of Jordan this week. The secretary of state is busy with all of our allies in the area trying to get help in figuring out what we can do surgically that will get the result we want without making the problem even worse."
"We've got 70,000 dead people in that part of the world as a result of Bashar al-Assad," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Miss. "We as America have never let something like that happen before. We've taken action. Now, I don't have the answer, I doubt Claire does, as to exactly what we ought to do but the world is truly watching America right now."
Chambliss said he spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah this week, arguing the United States could strike air defenses in order "to enable" Syria's neighbors to help.
"I don't think we're at that point right now, but
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gets a hawk's eye tour of the Golan Heights from his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, during his first visit to Israel since enduring a Senate confirmation process in which opponents sharply questioned his commitment to defending the Jewish state. In the last week, Hagel has said the Pentagon's new major arms deal with Israel and three Arab states sent a clear "message" to Iran, discussed military options for handling post-conflict Syria with Jordanian leaders, sat with Egypt's new top brass, and capped his trip off by revealing that the U.S. believes Syria likely used sarin gas on its own people.
Photo by Jim Watson-Pool/Getty Images
As U.S. officials work to confirm intelligence assessments that Syria's Bashar al-Assad has deployed sarin gas, a former senior White House counterterrorism official said the Pentagon has no good military response options to support President Obama's "red line" threat against chemical weapon use.
"I don't think there are any good military options," said Gary Samore, former coordinator for weapons of mass destruction counterterrorism and arms control, now executive director of research at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Samore was skeptical that the administration ultimately would conclude conclusively that Syria in fact used sarin. But regardless of that call, he said, this could be just the beginning of a more deadly phase of the conflict.
"Because the stakes are so high, the administration is not going to accept that chemical weapons were used even on a small scale unless there is very conclusive evidence," he said, in an interview. In fact, he's more worried that Syria could respond by unleashing its chemical arsenal.
"There's a very high risk that there will be more chemical weapons use," he said. "The military options are really horrendous."
Either the United States has to strike the chemical weapons, or the delivery vehicles for them, he explained. Those assets are believed to be spread across the country. If Syria wanted to conduct a full-scale chemical assault, they would use aircraft. The United States would then have to destroy the Syrian air force before it leaves the ground. But chemical weapons can also be delivered via missiles or artillery, which would require the U.S. targeting Assad's arsenal of short-range rockets and conventional weapons.
"If you look at all the options... there are just so many of them that you're talking about a very large-scale military intervention."
Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
White House officials notified Congress today that the U.S. believes Syria used sarin gas on its own people, crossing President Obama's "red line" in a potentially game changing acknowledgement that could draw the U.S. into the Syrian civil war.
"It violates every convention of warfare," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, in making the announcement public on Thursday, while visiting the United Arab Emirates.
The announcement comes days after an Israeli general during Hagel's visit earlier this week declared that Syria had used chemical weapons, which followed similar declarations from Britain and France. Hagel and U.S. officials, put on the spot, previously said U.S. intelligence was inconclusive.
"As I have said, the intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue, and the decision to reach this conclusion was made in the past 24 hours," Hagel said, "and I have been in contact with senior officials in Washington today and most recently the last couple of hours on this issue."
"We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons, but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime."
Miguel Rodriguez, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, in a letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote, "Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."
Rodriguez cautioned that President Obama would require further investigation of the evidence before deciding how to react, but said the U.S. remains "prepared for all contingencies" to respond to any "confirmed" use of chemical weapons.
A senior administration official briefing reporters in the afternoon would not say what President Obama would do, if the U.S. confirms Syria's use of chemical weapons to its own higher "standard of evidence."
"I don't want to get into those hypotheticals at this juncture," the official said.
But Rodriguez, in the letter to Congress, wrote, "No option is off the table."
"However, precisely because the president takes this issue so seriously, we have an obligation to fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use within Syria," he wrote. "Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned form our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient -- only credible corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making, and strengthen our leadership of the international community."
The White House said the assessment was made from "physiological samples," but cautioned "we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditons."
On Wednesday, McCain sent a letter to Obama demanding a straight, and public, answer on Syria's chemical weapons use, co-signed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, Bob Casey, D-Penn., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Photo by Jim Watson-Pool/Getty Images
U.S. Marines have started to move a rapid reaction team of six tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft and 550 troops to Spain, the first shift of U.S. forces directly resulting from the September attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Gen. James Amos, commandant, told the Senate on Wednesday that the mission was underway, with MV-22 Ospreys (like the one pictured above, in training at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.) staging in Maine before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Moron Air Base, Spain. Spain is a temporary location for the unit, which Amos said could rotate around Africa at the discretion of top commanders.
"If something happens, you now have an asset that you can move very quickly along with the C-130 tankers and the V-22s. You can move it very quickly in the Africa continent to respond to a crisis," Amos said in a hearing before Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Amos said he did not know where the unit would be stationed permanently, but indicated they should expect be moved frequently.
"It wouldn't surprise me to find them moving around the Africa continent," he said.
Africa has rocketed to the forefront of national security concerns for Pentagon planners, who are focused on checking the spread of terrorist groups, drug trafficking, thin military relationships, and other destabilizing factors, while members of Congress in the past year mostly have focused on preventing another deadly Benghazi-like attack. Republicans, in particular, have criticized the Obama administration for leaving Africa Command short of funds, attention, and strategy.
Amos told the Senate that former AFRICOM commander Gen. Carter Ham had requested the response force that is en route this week in response to those concerns.
"Their job is to provide a crisis-response capability for the combatant commander," Amos said, referring to Africa Command's new commander, Gen. David Rodriguez.
It's the Pentagon's answer to one criticism of the U.S. response to the attack in Benghazi -- mostly from Congressional Republicans -- that the Obama administration left the Pentagon few viable options to help Americans under attack in North Africa.
This week, a report on Benghazi delivered to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, co-authored by five House GOP committee chairmen, argued the Benghazi attack was neither an intelligence nor a military failure, but rather a result of poor civilian leadership. Benghazi happened, the Republicans argued, because of "the lack of a coherent administration policy toward North Africa; an ad hoc and reactive administration strategy for addressing threats to U.S. interests in the region; a lack of resources for AFRICOM; and the short duration of the attack."
"The Department of Defense," they concluded, "was unable to provide an effective military response to the Benghazi attacks."
Furthermore, the House committee chairmen said that the military could not respond because AFRICOM did not maintain a Commander's in-Extremis Force (CIF).
"As a result, when the U.S. needed to respond swiftly to the attacks in Benghazi, the Defense Department did not task AFRICOM. Instead, it was forced to task EUCOM's CIF to respond, which was engaged in a training mission in Croatia," the chairmen wrote.
Those Marines in Europe that were supposed to be available to help in a moment's notice didn't have a ride to Libya.
"The Marine FAST platoon in Rota, Spain, was hindered in its response because it lacked dedicated airlift at its location; the airlift was in Germany. Even if the airlift had been co-located with the platoon, the platoon would not have been able to arrive in time to save the lives of the four Americans killed in the attack."
Until now, only limited special operations forces in the region were available as a crisis response force, Amos explained.
This new team is a new option.
"It'll have a Marine infantry company reinforced. It'll have signals, intelligence, CYBERCOM capabilities and logistics," Amos said, responding to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, the subcommittee's ranking member.
U.S. Marine Corps photo
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., admonished Pentagon leaders on Wednesday for not treating members of defense oversight committees seriously or respectfully. She said they make national security decisions without adequate congressional notification, and she demanded a change in tone from those across the river.
Mikulski said defense committee chairmen seem to get plenty of attention, but backbenchers are shut out. When they do get answers from Pentagon officials, she said, it feels as if the officials are just "checking a box."
"We have been deeply troubled from time to time that we have been treated in a dismissive way," Mikulski said, in a budget hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
"We want meetings, and we want meetings that count. We don't just want meetings that give updates for decisions that were made," she told Navy Secretary Ray Mabus; Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations; and Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
"The chairmen are always treated with respect. Everybody wants to come and see us, have meetings, exchange coins, and we all kumbayah together. But at the end of the day, there are members here that want to be on this subcommittee so they can get simple answers about what's going on in their own state."
It's not a new complaint from Capitol Hill. On April 8, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., complained about learning from the press, rather than the Pentagon, that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wanted to dramatically alter Article 60, the section of military law relating to the power of the so-called convening authority. McKeon, who liked the idea, issued a public warning to Hagel, suggesting the secretary's robust plans for defense reform stood a better chance if Pentagon officials visited the HASC altar more often.
"Chairman McKeon sees eye-to-eye with Secretary Hagel on much of his reform agenda. The prospects for success would be much improved if members and staff learned of important policy developments from senior commanders or DoD officials, not the press," said a committee press release, at the time.
Here is the transcript of Mikulski's complaint, lodged at the top of the hearing:
MIKULSKI: ...And I would just like to also note that one of the other things in taking over the chair -- Mr. Secretary, I spoke to you -- we really need those within the department to have a real understanding of this committee and every member, not only the full committee chairman and the vice chairman and the chairman of the subcommittee and Senator Cochran but all of the committees. We have been deeply troubled from time to time that we have been treated in a dismissive way. The chairmen are always treated with respect. Everybody wants to come and see us, have meetings, exchange coins, and we all kumbayah together. But at the end of the day, there are members here that want to be on this subcommittee so they can get simple answers about what's going on in their own state. They worry about...the moving of airplanes, the fact that a meeting with us is checking the box.
So I bring this up with you. I brought it up with Hagel, I brought it up with Carter, Dempsey and Winnefeld. I'm bringing it up with you. Could you let them know that in a choice -- that we don't see a choice between guns or butter? We just see that we need to be able to defend America. So when they -- we want meetings, and we want meetings that count. We don't just want meetings that give updates for decisions that were made. Secretary, I talked with you about it earlier. I know I have your word to correct this problem. I believe you are a man of honor and that we will address these, and the committee will appreciate it.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month across the nation. How about a breath mint?
Lip balm? Hand sanitizer? Sewing kit?
In the Pentagon, Defense Department officials have launched a massive public relations campaign to show they're serious about cracking down on sexual assault in the military, while raising awareness among service members. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has recorded a message to the troops while DOD has expanded its victim-assistance programs, sought help from outside advocacy groups, and required sexual assault to receive attention higher up the chain of command.
And as with most DOD campaigns, folding tables and cardboard displays were set up in the apex between corridors 9 and 10, and promotional giveaways were handed out.
Every week there is some kind of promotional event at the apex -- whether to get your cholesterol screened, take advantage of DOD retirement advice, celebrate Black History Month, or remind you of your cybersecurity responsibilities.
This month at the apex, as well as in the Pentagon Athletic Center, in order to remind troops not to sexually assault each other, the Air Force is offering a lip balm tube with a label that reads: "SAPR Sexual Assault Prevention & Response; Air Force National Capital Region; 24/7 Hotline 310-981-7272."
The Air Force also passed out tchotchkes like a box of breath mints, which has a bold sticker on the cover that says "NO MEANS NO!" -- because nothing says leave me alone like fresh breath, apparently.
Or, military officers and civilian workers could try the 2.5-ounce hand sanitizer bottle shaped like an open palm. Printed on the bottle: "KEEP UR HANDS 2 YOURSELF," along with the telephone number for the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators 24-hour hotline.
Or, play catch around the Pentagon office using a mini foam football, always a favorite at exhibit booths. This one reminds troops "DON'T FUMBLE... GET CONSENT" and is printed with the same hotline phone numbers.
The mints come in a box wrapped in a trifold cardboard cover that asks "Are you at risk?" On one inside flap is a five-bullet explainer on "What is Sexual Assault?" On the other flap, "Minimize Your Risk" tips suggest that there's safety in numbers, that you have your key ready before you reach a car door, and that you stay sober -- or at least never leave your drink unattended. Another tip, from the breath mint package: "Match your body language to your words -- don't laugh and smile while saying, ‘No.'"
The package also explains what "consent" means and has a final pop quiz, teaching that if you have been sexually assaulted, you should not bathe or shower, presumably to preserve biological evidence.
Other trinkets included a pocket-sized flashlight; a sewing kit; and a small notepad and pen in a plastic carrying case.
Photo by Kevin Baron, Foreign Policy
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.